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'Grievous Angel' is the 21st book featuring the detective Bob Skinner. I have read approximately half of these novels over the past 6 months or so, having been impressed by the author's style.
Jardine knows how to do crime well. His characters are gritty and fully rounded people. His crime scenes are as gruesome as any American TV show, and I have become rather fond of his detective Bob Skinner.
The last few books I have read from the series have been chronological, with Bob having advanced to the rank of Chief Constable. I felt in the last novel I read, 'A Rush of Blood', which was book 20 in the series, that Bob was taking a bit of a back step while we got to know some more about the central characters to the series. I was fine with that as a reader, as I could see it made sense to know more about all these other people who had been part of the story for so long, and it satisfied my need to know more about the characters that I felt was missing from jumping around and not reading in chronological order.
It made a real change to me to read 2 that were chronological here, but that did not seem to matter too much with this particular novel.
The book starts with Skinner in a pretty bad place. Usually he can switch off from the brutal things he has seen, but his usual switch off mechanisms are not working, and he is on the verge of some sort of breakdown after the torture he had seen in his last case.
He is prompted by his wife, Aileen, to start to write his memoirs to try and rid himself of some of the anguish he is carrying around. So what we end up with in this novel is a nostalgic look back at one of the old cases that Bob is carrying round in his head as he works through his feelings.
At first, he was looking back to his childhood. Some of the relevations made little sense to me, as they seemed to come from somewhere so out of the blue. I also felt there was a continuity error. The way that Bob recalled meeting his first wife was slightly different to the way it had been told in an earlier novel. I get a bit annoyed with things like this. Fair enough, the author has forgotten something he said before, but it makes it seem less well plotted some way in my head.
At first, I was not best impressed with this book I have to say, but somewhere along the lines as I was reading it, I have now seen this novel as probably the best Skinner novel I have ever read.
It really acts as a prequel to all the other books I have read in the series, set before the first novel in the series. It looks at Bob first being promoted to Head of Series Crimes, where he begins to assemble the team around himself that I have become so familiar with. We meet them for the first time alongside Skinner, and it helped me get a great understanding of how the characters have developed the relationships that they have.
We also see his daughter as a young teenager, aged just 13, and almost fully developed, but still a long way from the confident young woman that she is in the more recent novels.
The crime involved in the novel starts with a nasty murder with a young man found at the deep end of an empty swimming pool. It becomes clear quickly that he didn't voluntarily jump, so the race is on to find out who chucked him. The importance becomes clearer when we realise he is the driver of a local hardman, and the son of a family who have already been killed for drug related reasons.
Skinner's also having a serious relationship with a fellow police officer, Alison Higgins, who is having her own serious crime problems when two local men are attacked leaving gay bars by a frenzied knifeman.
The plot unfolds beautifully. I loved us seeing all the names that have been involved in the crimes I have already read, younger, and before Skinner gets chance to nail them. It really gives an absolute feel for continuity that we know so much more about every important name I have ever seen in these novels. The fine threads of the plot are brought together so cleverly in the conclusion, that I am left just amazed by the cleverness of it all.
While I started off thinking it was someone who was running out of ideas a bit for the main character, I was left astounded that 21 books in, Jardine still has some tricks up his sleeves to surprise me. I am left desperate to get my hands on the next novel in the hope it will look at another point in history so I can find out even more.
If I could only read one Skinner book out of the ones I had, I would choose this one as it is the one that left me feeling the most complete understanding of the characters.